Every so often, a film works despite not working.
In Harry in Your Pocket, James Coburn plays the titular Harry, a professional pick-pocket. He operates with Casey, an aging crook played by Walter Pidgeon. The plot follows a young couple who join Harry and Casey to form a wire mob.
A wire mob is an organized team of pick-pockets. Though we never learn the mechanics of pick-pocketing, we learn the lingo. A spotter directs stalls to distract the mark for the cannon who passes the poke to the drop.
The gang travels from Seattle up to British Columbia then down to Salt Lake City. They board in the finest hotels and dine in the finest restaurants, their lifestyle financed by Harry via strangers’ wallets. I appreciated the elegant way the film presented the bleak truth: what can Harry do with the money but spend it?
To that end, Coburn’s Harry proves an enigma. We learn little about him yet he remains relentlessly interesting.
The trouble is, the film isn’t about Harry, it’s about Ray and Sandy, the young stalls who join Harry’s gang. Thanks to Trish Van Devere’s performance, I could buy Sandy as a detached thrill seeker, but Michael Sarrazin’s performance as Ray left me impatient.
Devoid of any edge, Sarrazin plays Ray as a generic nice guy who’d prefer a 9-to-5 job and a house in the suburbs. When Ray’s alone on screen, the film drags.
Still, I liked the movie. Chalk it up to Coburn. He’s so interesting to watch, he makes mediocre movies good, and good movies great. Harry in Your Pocket is closer to mediocre, but Coburn makes it worthwhile.